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Scotland: The High Road to Craft

Scotland: The High Road to Craft

Scotland: The High Road to Craft

June/July 2012 issue of American Craft magazine
Scotland's Isle of Mull

Isle of Mull photo: © Richard Baker/In Pictures/Corbis

Makers abound in a lush setting where history meets innovation. 

Fàilte gu Alba – Welcome to Scotland.

So says the sign that greets you when you cross the border on the major road from England into Scotland, a land rich in contemporary and historic craft. The work goes well beyond kilts and cashmere; here you will find more than 3,000 makers working across the craft spectrum, from jewelry to wood, ceramics to textiles, cutting-edge design to rapid proto­typing. In Scotland you can explore a thriving craft scene amid a dramatic landscape – oh, and sample a few whiskies along the way.

Start your journey in the scenic border county of Dumfries and Galloway. If you’re there in early June, you won’t want to miss the annual Spring Fling open-studios tour. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the tour; a special program of events includes exhibitions at Gracefield Arts Centre, a popular gallery in the area.

From here, make your way to Ayrshire, birthplace of Robert Burns and home county of West Kilbride, also known as Craft Town Scotland. The first town to be so designated, West Kilbride supports makers from silversmiths to textile artists, who open their studios to the public during the week. Craft Town Scotland also has a craft exhibition and activities center, and was recently named one of Scotland’s “Creative Places” by Creative Scotland, a national nonprofit group that invests in Scottish arts, film, and other creative enterprises.

Travel up the rugged coast to Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and a lively cultural hub. In Glasgow’s medieval quarter you’ll find Wasps Briggait, a restored Victorian market building with about 80 spaces for artists, organizations, and businesses. (Wasps, a U.K. nonprofit, provides affordable studios and workspaces to support artists and arts organizations across the country.)

From here, visit the galleries and craft shops in the city center and make your way to the Glasgow School of Art. Devote a day to explore the legacy of noted arts and crafts designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Take a tour of GSA’s Mackintosh building, then a trip to the Willow Tea Rooms, and end with a visit to the beautiful Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which displays Mackintosh furniture and other important craft works.

Continue north on the west coast and take a boat over the sea to Skye, where you can tour a number of makers’ studios in breathtaking surroundings. Back on the mainland, be sure to visit the exhibitions at an talla solais, the Gaelic name for the Ullapool Visual Arts Centre.On the east coast, check out the Moray Art Centre and the galleries in Inverness, then travel further north to the picturesque village of Helmsdale. Here you will find the state-of-the-art Timespan Museum and Arts Centre, which frequently showcases craft. Continue to Caithness and the acclaimed North Lands Creative Glass center, where the annual Scottish Glass Society exhibition will be held in September.

Take the ferry to Orkney, where you can see neolithic craft at the ancient Skara Brae village and discover the Orkney Craft Trail. The Orkney Crafts Association provides maps to studios of makers who work in textiles, pottery, furniture, and jewelry, where you can meet the artists and purchase work. Travel on to the northernmost area of Scotland, the stunning Shetland Islands, where you can take part in craft events at Bonhoga Gallery, and encounter more craft makers in their workshops.

Back on the mainland, visit Dundee, home of the renowned Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and an area gaining a reputation as a hub for boundary-breaking craft artists and researchers. The city launched the first Craft Festival Scotland in 2010. Scheduled to open in 2015, the landmark V&A at Dundee – a partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – will showcase design. Don’t miss Dundee Contemporary Arts: Given its shows, classes, and shop, you need not leave Dundee without craft in your hands.

From Dundee it’s a short trip to historic Stirling. The majestic Stirling Castle not only offers incredible views of the city, but also lets you see makers in a working tapestry studio.Watch as a team of contemporary weavers re-create one of the Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, using techniques dating back to the late 1400s.

Finish your whirlwind tour in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. A stroll around the Old Town will take you to museums filled with remarkable Scottish craft, as well as the Dovecot tapestry studios, celebrating their centenary this year with an exciting lineup of events. Edinburgh houses a diverse selection of galleries showing craft, including the famous Scottish Gallery, and boasts several specialist craft boutiques. You can also visit urban studios for regular events and classes: Meet dozens of makers at bustling studios like Leith’s Coburg House and the New Town’s Wasps studios, or drop in at intimate studios such as the Adam Pottery in Stockbridge.

This is just scratching the surface of Scottish craft. But it’s plenty to get you started.

Laura Anderson is a freelance writer and works for the nonprofit organization Craft Scotland.